The trend of fraudulently labeling pets as “therapy” or “emotional” animals to avoid a building’s no pet policy is on the rise. Landlords are increasingly reluctant to challenge their tenants as any denial could result in a discrimination suit resulting in fines up to $250,000. Unlike trained service animals such as a seeing-eye-dog, emotional support animals do not need formal training. In fact, there are websites online that will generate a doctor’s note stating the tenant’s need for a service dog for under $200. Despite the therapy exemption, the concern is that therapy animals may become a nuisance to landlords and neighbors.
For that reason, New York, along with several other states, recently enacted laws which criminalize the fraudulent designation of a therapy dog. At the end of 2017, Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill which makes it unlawful to fraudulently designate an emotional support or therapy dog. Although the statute defined a therapy dog as one “that is trained to aid the emotional and physical health of patients in hospitals … and other settings and is actually used for such purposes,” it took notice that there are no procedures for determining whether the animal meets the criteria.
The Statute tasked the New York State Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets to examine therapy animal standards. On October 31 of this year, the Commission issued their report. The report concluded that “there is a lack of standards regarding training, evaluation, certification and identification of therapy dogs.” With that being said, the report set forth recommended standards for the training and assessment for therapy animal handlers and the considerations for facilities using therapy animals. Now that the report is released, New York State will look to adopt a set of standards for therapy animals.
Until those standards are adopted, there are certain steps landlords can take when handling tenants with so-called “therapy animals.” First of all, under applicable federal, state and local laws, a landlord may lawfully request that a tenant provide supporting documentation from a qualified professional that the animal is necessary for the tenant’s “use and enjoyment” of the apartment. A landlord should always review the paperwork to assure it is accurate. However, until the State adopts set standards for the evaluation of therapy animals, it will continue to be difficult for a landlord to judge the merits of having a therapy animal.
If you are a landlord or tenant who is facing a complex landlord-tenant dispute, it is important to seek guidance from an experienced lawyer who can help you through the process and protect your legal rights. The New York landlord-tenant lawyers at McGuire & Peleáz P.C. Have experience representing hundreds of New York landlords and tenants in complex matters. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact our New York landlord-tenant law firm at (631) 348-1702.